Speak to anyone who backpacked through Laos in the early 2000’s and they will tell you about this awesome party spot called Vang Vieng. AKA that place where you can get drunk while floating down the river in an old truck tyre.
Wait, what? Yeah, that was our reaction too. These days the town is more well known for outdoor activities than it is for ‘tubing’ as it is commonly referred to. Actually, you can’t really do it anymore because the majority of bars have been closed down for safety reasons. That doesn’t stop the locals from renting you a rubber ring and giving you a hefty fine (by Laos standards) for bringing it back late, though.
So is it even worth going to Vang Vieng these days? Let’s start with the pros…
Pro: A good stopover between LP and Vientiane
If you go straight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, you’re looking at a good 10-hour bus ride. You might as well spend at least 1 night getting over travel sickness induced through your twisty ride through the hills.
Pro: Vang Vieng offers cheap activities
You can get a full day of activities for around 120,000kip. We managed to negotiate a morning of kayaking, a tour of a cave in a rubber ring and a trip to blue lagoon (lunch included!) from 160,000 to 120,000 each. That was only about £12 at the time. Go with a cheaper company and you will easily negotiate less.
Pro: You can drink the night away for free!
We have Frog to thank for this one! Using the powers of the internet, he deciphered that you can drink for free in Sakura Bar from 8pm to 9pm, then drink for free in Viva Pub from 10pm to 11pm. Personally, I’m not sure if this should go on the pros or cons because the cheap whisky gives a monster hangover that is far from ideal for a day of activities!
Con: The town is full of young travellers
If you’re looking for an authentic Lao experience, you won’t get it in Vang Vieng. The free and cheap booze obviously attracts very young western backpackers and a surprising amount of even younger Koreans. We forgot to add ‘watching drunk Koreans dance and get high on laughing gas’ to the pros…
Con: It doesn’t really feel like Laos
Vang Vieng has been so impacted by tourism that you can actually struggle to find normal Lao food on the streets. The locals seem to be under the impression that westerners only eat sandwiches.
This is normally the part where we come to some insightful conclusion. but as we always say, the journey is what you make it. Even if we’re not normally into drinking free whisky or going on kayak tours with dubious instructors, we still had a pretty good time in Vang Vieng. If you do decide to head that way, consider renting a scooter and having a look a bit further afield. We went on our own trip to Blue Lagoon 1 and then got lost in Tham Phu Kham cave.
Remember, it is not always about the destination. Just enjoy the journey and even your worst nightmare can be fun!